POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Florida six-week abortion ban will soon become law, but voters will consider a constitutional amendment this fall

Apr 2, 2024, 8:00 AM

Florida six-week abortion ban...

Abortion rights proponents and anti-abortion activists voice their opinions outside the Florida Supreme Court on February 7, in Tallahassee, Florida. The Florida Supreme Court upheld Florida’s existing 15-week ban on abortions, which means the state’s six-week ban will soon become law. (Mandatory Credit: Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat/USA Today Network via CNN Newsource)

(Mandatory Credit: Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat/USA Today Network via CNN Newsource)

(CNN) — The Florida Supreme Court on Monday paved the way for the state’s six-week abortion ban to take effect, while allowing Floridians to decide in the fall whether to enshrine abortion protections in the state’s constitution.

Tune in for more at 8:45!

 

By upholding Florida’s current 15-week ban on abortion, the state Supreme Court triggered a six-week abortion ban approved by Florida lawmakers last year. The law will take effect in 30 days. But in a separate ruling, the court approved the wording of a proposed state constitutional amendment that would protect the right to an abortion in Florida, clearing it to go on the ballot as Amendment 4 this November when it could potentially undo both bans. Constitutional amendments in Florida need the support of at least 60% of voters to be approved.

Monday’s rulings will make Florida one of the most restrictive states in the country to obtain an abortion and set up a presidential-year fight over reproductive rights in the Sunshine State. The Biden campaign on Monday cast Florida, a longtime swing state that has trended Republican in recent elections, as “winnable” in November as it seeks to mobilize voters around abortion rights.

With the measure poised to appear on the state’s ballot, Florida will join several other states, including Michigan and Ohio, where voters have weighed in directly on reproductive rights since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The initiative could also boost voter turnout in what is expected to be a close rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.

In January, Floridians Protecting Freedom, the coalition behind the ballot initiative, gathered just under a million signatures of registered voters to qualify for Florida Supreme Court review. Justices had to decide if the amendment’s language is clear, unambiguous and would not confuse voters. The court also had to decide if the language on the ballot deals with a single subject. Both legal requirements had to be met for the amendment to appear on the ballot.

The wording of the proposed amendment that will appear on the ballot reads:

“No law shall prohibit, penalize, delay, or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s health, as determined by the patient’s healthcare provider. This amendment does not change the Legislature’s constitutional authority to require notification to a parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion.”

That language was challenged last year by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who asked the court to kill the amendment due to language she argued was vague and confusing, with the aim of tricking voters.

The justices on Monday said in their opinion, “it cannot be said that the ballot summary will mislead voters regarding the actual text of the proposed amendment.”

Lauren Brenzel, campaign director for Yes on 4, said in a statement, “This is our chance to engage in direct democracy to stop these unpopular and harmful policies.”

“We are thrilled Floridians will have the opportunity to reclaim their bodily autonomy and freedom from government interference by voting for Amendment 4 this November,” Brenzel said. “Today’s ruling also underscores the crucial role of Florida’s ballot initiative process, which provides voters an important opportunity to take the reins when politicians aren’t representing our interests.”

Ruling on abortion access

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis last April signed the law banning most abortions after six weeks, before many women know that they are pregnant.

Victims of rape, incest and human trafficking could obtain an abortion up to 15 weeks into a pregnancy, under the legislation, if the woman provides a restraining order, police report, medical record or other evidence.

The bill would also ban doctors from prescribing an abortion via telehealth and require medication for abortion be dispensed by a physician, not by mail.

The bill’s enactment, though, was stalled after Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups sued to overturn a law signed by DeSantis in 2022 to ban abortions after 15 weeks — a restriction left in place while the legal challenge played out.

The 15-week ban does not include exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking, and a pregnancy cannot be terminated after 15 weeks unless the mother is at serious risk or a fatal fetal abnormality is detected if two physicians confirm the diagnosis in writing.

For decades, courts in Florida have blocked legislative attempts to restrict abortion in the state. The state Supreme Court in 1989 determined that a privacy clause in the state constitution “is clearly implicated in a woman’s decision of whether or not to continue her pregnancy.”

Those protections for years made Florida a sanctuary for women seeking abortions throughout the South as neighboring states over time moved to restrict the procedure. In 2020, Florida saw 19.1 legal abortions per 1,000 women, the highest rate of any state in the country.

But on Monday, the court — which has five DeSantis appointees — retreated from the decadeslong protections linking the privacy provision in the state constitution with a woman’s right to an abortion, allowing the ban to move forward.

“The majority concludes that the public understanding of the right of privacy did not encompass the right to an abortion. However, the dominance of Roe in the public discourse makes it inconceivable that in 1980, Florida voters did not associate abortion with the right of privacy,” the opinion said.

That change will have a tremendous impact on abortion access in the southeastern United States. Virginia becomes the closest state for women in Florida to seek abortion access after six weeks with many southern states banning abortion almost entirely.

“This ruling is a grave setback to human rights in our state,” said Alexandra Mandado, president and CEO for Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida.

“It signals a dangerous precedent of government intrusion into our personal, private lives and medical decisions. This decision triggers a near-total abortion ban, hindering access to care for Floridians. It particularly endangers vulnerable communities, including those with low incomes, in rural areas, and facing discrimination,” Mandado said in a statement.

Court also rules on recreational marijuana amendment

The court Monday also approved ballot language on Amendment 3, which will allow Florida voters to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana in November.

The constitutional amendment could authorize the use of recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. It would allow people to possess up to three ounces of marijuana.

The proposal was challenged by Moody before the state Supreme Court in November 2023. She questioned the amendment’s language and its potential to violate a requirement that ballot initiatives stick to a single subject. The justices rejected both arguments in their majority opinion.

The amendment will also need approval from 60% of voters to pass.

In 2016, Florida voters legalized medical marijuana through a constitutional amendment, but a year later, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a law that banned the smoking of marijuana in all forms.

But DeSantis, in his very first bill signed into law as governor in 2019, legalized smokable medical marijuana again in Florida.

CNN investigation last year raised questions about DeSantis’ record on catering to special interests and campaign donors as he was courted by marijuana interests who helped bankroll his campaign. The investigation showed how DeSantis repeatedly intersected with a cast of players in the state’s budding cannabis industry to his benefit and sometimes to theirs, with the new law helping fuel what would become a billion-dollar industry in Florida.

Biden campaign sets its sights on the Sunshine State

Biden’s campaign argued in a new memo Monday that the president’s campaign “is in a stronger position to win Florida this cycle than he was in 2020,” as it seeks to mobilize voters around abortion rights while contrasting Biden’s record with that of Trump.

“Make no mistake: Florida is not an easy state to win, but it is a winnable one for President Biden, especially given Trump’s weak, cash-strapped campaign, and serious vulnerabilities within his coalition,” Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez wrote in the memo.

Trump has carried the state twice before – in 2016, he narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton by roughly 100,000 votes, while he widened his margin in 2020, defeating Biden 51.2% to 47.9%.

Still, the Biden campaign ended February with $71 million in available cash in his principal campaign account – more than twice the $33.5 million in cash reserves held by Trump’s campaign – which, along with the issue of abortion, they believe leaves an opening to flip the state blue come November.

“As we’ve seen in election after election, protecting abortion rights is mobilizing a diverse and growing segment of voters to help buoy Democrats up and down the ballot,” Chavez Rodriguez wrote Monday, pointing to the Florida Supreme Court’s Monday ruling on the proposed amendment.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Steve Contorno, DJ Judd, Scott GloverRandi KayeNelli Black, Michelle Lou and Brandon Griggs contributed to this report.

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Florida six-week abortion ban will soon become law, but voters will consider a constitutional amendment this fall